Citing efforts by President Barack Obama to stiffen gun control laws, Republican state Rep. Joe Carr has introduced legislation that would criminalize any attempts by federal agents to enforce bans on semiautomatic weapons or ammunition.
President Barack Obama signs executive orders Jan. 16, 2013, at the White House in Washington, D.C., initiating 23 separate executive actions after announcing new measures to help prevent gun violence. (Photo courtesy of the White House/C. Kennedy)
The bill would also exempt residents from having to register any type of gun, firearm accessories or ammunition with the federal government, as long as it is locally owned, manufactured in the state, and remains inside Tennessee.
“In light of recent comments and actions taken by Obama and Vice President (Joe) Biden, I believe it is necessary for Tennessee to proactively promote, maintain and defend its sovereignty guaranteed to it in the 10th Amendment,” Carr said Wednesday during a press conference in Murfreesboro.
The Lascassas native also included a measure in the bill that would require the attorney general to defend residents facing prosecution by the U.S. government for violating any new federal gun laws – proposals that have not yet been considered or passed through Congress.
“It is our attempt to push back against the federal government encroaching, not only on our personal liberties, but on our state sovereignty,” he said. “We have had enough, and enough is enough.”
The proposal is just one of several being discussed across the country.
Legislators in Wyoming and Texas have also proposed similar bills, contending they have the legal right to protect American citizens from any violations of the U.S. Constitution, a premise known as the nullification theory in the field of political science.
Under this idea, states have the right to invalidate a federal law when Congress does not act pursuit to the Constitution – a power that has been reserved to the judicial branch since the early 1800s.
However, some experts contend any of these bills, if passed, would probably not stand up to a court challenge based on a provision in the Constitution, which is commonly referred to as the supremacy clause.
“The problem the law would likely encounter is the primacy clause in the Sixth Article of the U.S. Constitution,” said John Vile, dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. “If there is a federal law, a rival state law has to yield to it.”
Even though the bill might not pass constitutional scrutiny, Vile said, “There is an argument to be made using the 10th Amendment (of the Bill of Rights)… but no one can speculate what could possibly pass Congress or happen at the U.S. Supreme Court in the new few months, even years.”
What the Supreme Court has made clear, he said, is the line between legal restrictions and unconstitutional laws.
“At the moment, what is missing is that we do not know what lines are missing in regard to what is proposed now,” Vile said. “Is the line between a handgun or semiautomatic rifle? If new bans or stricter laws are passed through Congress, and subsequently signed by the president, then we will likely see a lot more cases in the next few years regarding gun control.”
Obama pushes for gun control
Carr announced his proposal only hours after Obama urged Congress to pass a ban on what he described as military-style weapons, which would include the AR-15 rifle, and more comprehensive background checks.
During a press conference at the White House, Obama said he was putting forward the proposals as a way to stop future gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting that occurred in December 2012.
On Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Before driving to the elementary school, which did not have a school resource officer, he killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their nearby home.
When officers arrived at the scene, Adam Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head before he could be taken into custody, according to Connecticut law enforcement officials.
Despite the fact that all of the guns Adam Lanza used in the shooting were purchased legally by his mother, Obama has ramped up efforts to implement stricter gun laws, saying military-style weapons are not appropriate for mass consumption.
“We cannot put this off any longer,” he said. “In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun – 900 in the past month. Every day we wait, the number will keep growing.”
As such, Obama said he wants Congress to place limits on high-capacity magazines and tighten gun-trafficking laws that would be aimed at combating the spread of weapons across state lines.
He also signed 23 executive orders aimed at strengthening enforcement of existing gun laws and increasing the flow of information between federal agencies in order to more closely monitor gun purchases.
And while experts believe the proposed gun control laws would not have prevented the Connecticut shooting, Obama said Congress is still obligated to address the issue.
“Because while there is no set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, or every act of evil,” he said, “if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we have an obligation to try.”
Given those remarks, Carr said his bill is designed to be a “preemptive strike” against the proposals Obama put forth, noting he has heard from numerous constituents who want Tennessee lawmakers to take a stand against any new federal bans or regulations.
“This most blatant assault on the Second Amendment by the Obama administration is a systematic effort to disarm the law-abiding citizens of the United States,” he said. “The Second Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, which was intended to protect the individual and the states from the tyranny of the (federal) government.”
Because any bans on weapons or ammunition would violate the Second Amendment, Carr said he felt compelled to introduce legislation designed to protect the rights of fellow Tennesseans, noting the Obama administration is attempting to overreach its authority with the proposals.
“The federal government,” he said, “should not be allowed, through law or executive order, to infringe upon our constitutional rights.”
Democrats take aim at Tennessee proposal
Although the bill has not yet been brought up for a vote, Carr said he believes it will garner strong support from fellow lawmakers in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly, which is controlled by the Republican Party.
Even though the Democratic Party is in the minority in both chambers, its leaders have already started churning out harsh criticism against the proposal, contending the efforts are misguided and ludicrous.
“The state legislature could act to reduce gun violence locally,” said Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. “Instead, politicians like Carr are presenting legally suspect plans that would make criminals of officers who are working to protect our families.”
Dubbing the bill as “disgraceful, as it is self-serving,” Forrester argued Carr should be focused on other issues, such as the economy and education because residents are more concerned about everyday matters than gun laws.
“In Tennessee, we are facing real problems with gun violence, poverty and persistent joblessness,” he said. “We do not need his extreme sideshow. Tennesseans need leaders who will stand up to special interests and work together to solve the problems our families elected them to fix.”
In defending the Obama administration, Forrester and several others Democrats commended the White House for pushing for more background checks and regulations, though none have publicly said they support banning certain weapons.
“The president has put a plan on the table that closes the background check loophole,” Forrester said. “Background checks are an important step toward the goal of stopping felons, domestic abusers, the mentally ill and other dangerous people from buying guns.”
Support for the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals, he added.
“We must do more to prevent dangerous people from getting guns,” Forrester said, adding that is why many Tennessee Democrats support more federal regulations.
“Our families are confronted with more gun violence than citizens in almost every other state in the nation,” he said. “This harsh reality destroys families and rips apart our communities, but we do not have to be paralyzed by statistics or fear. We can do something about it. We can reduce gun violence by strengthening laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and enacting common sense reforms that keep our families safe.”